We always interpret the famous saying “you cannot step into the same river twice” with complete focus on the river, for life situations are never the same again. We never think that the statement is also true because “you” are no longer the same person. As a romantic poet, William Blake had a beautiful way of putting it. His two books Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are based on the simple idea that a human being is born completely innocent, but as we grow older, we start losing our innocence, with every lost bit making way for an equal bit of experience. That’s how we turn from innocent, sometimes naïve, and carefree people to people who are much more mature, people who can shoulder responsibilities and sail through the hardships of life.
When I started my career 10 years ago, I certainly was not the person I am today. I used to be a much “purer” version of myself, a version that had not yet read much in the book of life. I was extremely dreamy about my career, especially that I was lucky enough to have a career that I had fought for and that I had dreamed of for years. I embraced my career with all my might, not understanding, back then, that I was embracing a whole lot of life experience with all its sweet and sour ingredients. As the years went by, I didn’t notice that I was gradually transforming from the innocent and rash teenager I was when I graduated to a much more mature person who can handle matters more reasonably and wisely. That was, of course, due to a lot of situations I’ve passed through and a lot of “traps” I’ve fallen into. Here are a few tips my work has opened my eyes to and that you may find useful:
1- Love what you do:
Passion about what you do makes a whole world of difference mainly because every workplace in the world has its own problems. Choosing a career that you love helps you tolerate the hardships you will be facing throughout your career. Sometimes when I feel exhausted and overwhelmed with responsibilities, I would remember a thank you note or a token of appreciation received from one of my students. A simple statement like “We’ve enjoyed the course” or “Thank you for helping me with (whatever)” comes as a reward that makes me feel my efforts have paid off and my exhaustion has been worth it.
2- Be kind to everyone:
On some days, you spend more time at work than that you spend with your family members. The relations between workmates (peers, seniors and juniors) creates the atmosphere at the workplace and determines whether it’s gonna be a healthy or a toxic one. In addition to affecting the employee’s performance and productivity, and hence the workplace’s overall status, a toxic atmosphere is psychologically draining and can eventually affect a person’s health. Be a source of kindness, motivation and positive energy to others. Never hesitate to extend a helping hand to a person in need. Be polite not only to your seniors, but also to your juniors. Have a problem with a workmate? Be wise enough to discuss it with them before you rush like a kid in Kinder Garten and complain about your colleague to your boss. If you’re senior to someone, make it a point to listen to them and appreciate their opinions, correcting their ideas and actions kindly and gently whenever need be. Always remember Sirius Black’s golden advice: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals”.
3- Learn that a workmate does not equal a friend:
A workplace is a place which is full of socialization and interaction, which makes it an excellent place for building friendships. The key point you need to bear in mind here is that a workmate doesn’t have to be a friend. I’m saying that even though I myself have workmates who by now have turned into excellent friends. The point is that this doesn’t go for everyone in the workplace. In my Egyptian culture, we have a nice proverb which goes like “Your worst enemy is a person who has the same job”. Remember that jealousy is a natural human emotion, and although I haven’t, thankfully, experienced that firsthand, I’ve seen others stabbed in the back by their fake friends for the mere sake of jealousy. Learn to set limits and not to open up to the first person who pats you on the shoulder. Be nice to everyone, but remember that you’re not a priority on everybody’s list. Be there for everyone through thick and thin, but don’t be disappointed by the fact that you’ll be forgotten the minute you resign or move to another department.
4- A kind heart is not a guarantee of protection:
In addition to being kind, you need to learn to forgive and let go. Some people might be harmful and evil. Try to forgive them for your own peace. Remember that hatred or any other negative feelings that you may have for someone don’t hurt them, but eats you up and makes you feel constant uneasiness. Also, try to accept a simple fact of life. If you’re essentially good, this doesn’t mean that others by necessity will be kind to you. It’s like throwing yourself into the ocean among sharks, thinking that they’ll spare you only because you have a heart of gold. Although you might have wonderful colleagues, it’s very likely that you also have evil ones who would want to hurt you for personal benefits or just for the sake of jealousy. With experience, you’ll get to learn how to deal with different types of people, but for a starter, try to learn that we’re all humans with both angelic and demonic sides.
5- Don’t kill yourself at work:
Work should not be equated with life. We can’t live without work because, in addition to the sense of self-fulfillment we gain, we, let’s confess it, also need the money. But don’t forget that we work to live and we don’t live to work. It’s only ethical that you do your work with conscientiousness, but also remember that you shouldn’t work around the clock. Did I say never hesitate to help anyone? Well, you should also make it a point that helping others doesn’t mean killing yourself or shouldering the responsibilities assigned to the whole staff. Remember, you’re not a robot!
6- Learn to fight your own battles only:
Nobility and enthusiasm are generally regarded as positive qualities, but they do turn into a curse the minute their owner decides to misuse them. When I started working 10 years ago, I had to face a situation in which I had to confront a senior. She was trying to dictate her instructions, and I had this stupid utopian thought of turning the world into a fair place. To cut a long story short, I fought a battle that was not my own to defend people who couldn’t care less about being defended. If my memory serves me correctly, this was the same day my life was going to end under the wheels of a car, for I was walking on the street consumed with my anger. That day, I learned to let each one fight their own battle. I would definitely still fight for someone who needs it, but not anymore for a cause which is not important for anyone.
7- Spend time doing what you like:
Me-time is as indispensable as the air you breathe. This is because you actually need some time to “breathe” and shut your mind off. Play sports. Cycle. Learn to play music. Run. Watch movies. Stay at home and just stare at the ceiling for a while, daydreaming about nothingness. Spend quality time with your family members. Have some time for yourself before your body reminds you of that the hard way. Take some time for yourself during which you don’t allow yourself to perform any work-related tasks, and don’t wait until you collapse.
These might be useful tips, based on experience, but your own experience will teach you a lot. We spend our lives learning, and work is one of the best schools that can teach you a lot about the world and also about yourself. Don’t cry over your lost innocence, but celebrate the experience and maturity you gain throughout your journey.